Swiss schoolchildren leave most of their European counterparts lagging behind when it comes to extracurricular activities such as smoking cannabis and getting drunk.
According to a survey of 35 countries, they are the continent’s heaviest dope smokers and among the worst offenders for binge drinking.
The European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs in Switzerland found that 80 per cent of 15-year-olds drank regularly – despite being underage.
More than half of the 16-year-olds questioned said they went binge drinking at least once a month.
While previous studies have shown that Swiss teenagers are big on dope smoking, the study’s authors said they were taken aback by some of the findings relating to alcohol consumption.
“There were many surprises,” said Gerhard Gmel, co-director for research at the Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Addiction, who led the study.
“Imagine that about 50 per cent of 16-year-olds binge at least once a month. I found this was a very high prevalence.”
“Another very surprising finding for us was that spirit and alcopop consumption seems to be very high among young people. We thought it was mainly beer and wine that were consumed by adolescents.”
Tax on alcopops
Alarmed by the rise in binge drinking among teenagers, the government raised the tax on alcopops in February this year.
Gmel said it was too early to say whether this was having any effect on drinking habits, but he stressed that other measures were needed.
Among them was better enforcement of existing regulations banning the sale of alcohol to minors.
According to previous studies, 90 per cent of 15-year-olds say it is either “very easy” or “relatively easy” to buy beer in Switzerland. Two-thirds of them say they have no problems getting their hands on spirits.
“It’s too easy to get alcohol in Switzerland,” Gmel told swissinfo.
“The fact that 80 per cent of young people drink has to do with our culture in Switzerland. It’s accepted to drink alcohol and I think the tolerance, even towards binge drinking, is too high in Switzerland.”
“I think we have good measures and legal regulations but they are not enforced enough – that’s a problem.”
Gmel and his team interviewed around 7,000 schoolchildren aged between 13 and 16.
They found that cigarette smoking among teenagers was continuing to rise despite frequent prevention campaigns. Almost a quarter of 16-year-olds said they smoked every day.
“There’s much international research going on about media campaigns, and they usually show that they are not very effective,” said Gmel.
“Nevertheless these campaigns are needed to really change the attitudes of the population, but they are only fruitful if they are accompanied by structural measures such as regulations on the selling of alcohol and tobacco.”
The Federal Health Office, which published the findings on Friday, said it was the first time Switzerland had participated in the Europe-wide survey.
Spokeswoman Sandra Meier said the office intended to repeat the study in four years’ time as long as funds were available.
swissinfo, Adam Beaumont
Figures for Swiss 13-year-olds:
8.5% smoke cigarettes daily.
More than 50% drink alcohol at least once a month.
20% have smoked a joint.
Drug and alcohol prevention experts say they are staggered by the high levels of binge drinking among Swiss teenagers.
They say it is too easy to buy alcohol in Switzerland and want to see tougher enforcement of existing regulations.